For most of the 90 minutes this tie was vying for the title of worst match of the tournament.
It briefly burst into life thanks to two missed penalties in quick succession, but we were thankfully spared extra-time by David Villa’s 83rd minute winner, his fifth goal of the tournament so far.
Spain struggled for most of the match to break down a resolute Paraguay side whose progress so far has owed much to a strong defense.
They had won only one match – a 1-0 victory over Slovakia – and scored just three goals in their four previous games. Fernando Torres was, once again, a disappointment and was substituted after less than an hour. Vicente Del Bosque will be hoping he recovers his form and confidence in time for the semi-final, but will at least be able to take solace in the fact that he can rely on the tournament’s best striker, the Barcelona-bound Villa.
He has been hugely impressive throughout the World Cup and always looked the most likely to make something happen for the Spaniards. He needed a bit of luck for his goal – it bounced off both posts before crossing the line – but it was no more than he deserved.
Paraguay had rarely threatened up until that point but created great chances in the closing minutes. Iker Casillas had to produce an excellent double save to deny first Barrios and then Roque Santa Cruz, who probably should have done better.
If this game is remembered – and it’s unlikely that even residents of either Madrid or Asuncion will reminisce about it for long – it will be for two missed penalties in four minutes, one for either side. Paraguay’s Oscar Cardozo missed the first after Gerald Pique had pulled him down following a corner.
Moments after Casillas made the save, Spain were awarded their own spot-kick when Villa was brought down by Alcaraz. Xavi Alonso scored the penalty but the referee rightly ruled that Spanish players had encroached the penalty area before the kick had been taken. Alonso was forced to take it again and this time Villar dived to his right to save it.
Fashioning a chance in open play seemed beyond both sides. And, frankly, even a penalty shoot-out looked like it would probably take a while to produce a winner. It was just as well Spain could rely on the tournament’s top scorer.
World Cup 101: